"Shariah: The Threat to America": A Commendable Worry Badly Addressed

The Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., recently released a report called Shariah: The Threat to America that sounds the alarm against fifth-column Muslims within and anti-American Muslims beyond America’s borders. Penned by an elite team culled from the ranks of America’s soldiers, diplomats, politicians, and spies, it pronounces shari’ah (the code of Islamic law that governs all of life) to be the great threat of our times similar to communism in the previous generation. Indeed, it draws many parallels between the two threats and calls on American leaders to exercise the same relentless animosity toward shari’ah that their hero, Ronald Reagan, showed toward communism.

I sympathize with much of the report’s concern. After 9/11, no one doubts that there are Muslims of extreme beliefs and practices who act as enemies of the American state and of many American values, just as some are enemies of the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, and other “western” (I prefer the term “northwestern”) nations.

A friend of mine wrote to me about the report recently and asked for a response. I’m not a foreign policy expert nor am I an expert on Islam. So I will leave detailed examination of the report to such people.

But I didn’t have to read much of the report to spot some very serious problems in it. In fact, the report shows itself in some key ways to be not only anti-Islamic in far too sweeping a way, but anti-Christian, too. And if I’m right about that, then implementation of its recommendations would be a Very Bad Thing indeed.

Here is my response:


I didn’t have to read more than a dozen pages to realize that this document is pretty harmful: harmful to Christian values, harmful to American values, and harmful to Christians and Americans, let alone Muslims in the U.S. and in other countries.

One of the reasons that it is so harmful is that it isn’t crazy and it isn’t wrong to voice a fear about certain Muslims doing certain things in the name of certain interpretations of shari’ah. I share that fear and I am concerned that there is ‘way too much sentimentality and wishful thinking among many North American citizens, opinion shapers and politicians when it comes to dealing with truly dangerous people here, there, and wanting to come here from there.

But the report is fatally flawed in several major respects that occur in its opening pages. I contend that these basic problems compromise everything else it says so badly that they render the document useless at best and dangerous at worst.

Before I get to those respects, however, we can note that the authors of the document include distinguished members of the American armed forces, intelligence community, diplomatic corps, and more. But look who is absent: Anyone with similar credentials in the study of Islam. You might think it would be helpful to stock such a group with one or, better, two or three experts particularly in the history and contemporary nature of Islamic law and in a wide range of Muslim-majority countries. But I can’t find any such person identified in this document.

(There is another central conceptual problem right up front, actually. There is only one officially Islamic country in the world, I believe: Saudi Arabia. All the other “Muslim countries” are, at best, “Islam-influenced” or “Muslim-majority” countries. Prince Ghazi bin-Muhammad of Jordan–who himself has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University in the study of literature and another Ph.D. from the renowned Al-Azhar University in Islamic philosophy–reminded me of that during our Christian-Muslim theological dialogue at Yale a couple of years ago. He said that if some of us Christians don’t want Muslims to think of America as simply a “Christian nation” and thus don’t want Muslims to blame what they don’t like about American foreign policy or domestic behaviour on Christianity, we ought to be careful to make the same distinctions about Muslims.” That’s a crucial point to make sometimes. The report doesn’t seem to make it. Those other countries are just “Muslim.”)

If the authors had included an Islamic specialist in their ranks and if they had included a Christian with some ability at social ethics to boot (!), they would not have made these fundamental mistakes and those that follow.

The report contends that shari’ah is unchanging and no new interpretation can be considered. Yes, that’s what the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and other conservative groups say. But lots of Muslims disagree. And so many have so disagreed over so many years that Muslim-majority countries have a quite diverse patchwork of laws and legal systems, most of them including significant elements of Western-style laws and courts. (See any reliable encyclopedia article on “shari’ah” on this point. And compare Turkey with Pakistan with Indonesia with Saudi Arabia with Syria with Egypt with Iran.)

Indeed, lots of Muslims can come to the West and enjoy it without completely privatizing their faith (see below). Similarly, Christians can both participate in pluralism, even justify it (as I do in my book Making the Best of It), without giving up their ideal of the Kingdom of God eventually ruling all–but only via persuasion or the coercion of Christ’s return, not by forcible human imperialism.

Yet many Christian-majority countries, even most of them, until pretty recently believed in imposing our civilization/values/religion at the point of a sword or gun as part of colonialism, or “making the world safe for democracy,” or the like. Muslims have been exposed to modernity and modern pluralism much less than Western Christians have been. I suggest it is much too early to conclude that many more of them cannot and will not make similar adjustments in their theological ethics over time, particularly when some already have done so.

The report suggests that adherence to shari’ah is optional for Muslims and that any Muslim who seeks to adhere to it and practice it is a threat to America. “Good” Muslims, then, don’t propound shari’ah while “bad” Muslims do. But to say so is just obviously wrong, since shari’ah means “the path to the water” and is simply the accumulation of authoritative statements of the way to be a faithful Muslim. To not adhere to shari’ah is like a Christian saying that he’ll be a Christian but he is not going to follow any of the Church’s teachings about theology and ethics.

Weirdly, the report’s authors show that they actually know better, at least partly, for in their preliminary remarks they speak of “good” Muslims as those who restrict shari’ah to “private” observance. But they soon drop that distinction and it’s either abandon shari’ah entirely or be called a threat to America.

As I have said, shari’ah, as the generic term for Islamic codification of right attitudes, beliefs, and practices, cannot possibly be restricted to private behaviour–just as Christian ethics cannot be. But this divide between public and private, which is paralleled by the divide between behaviour and ideas (you can believe that abortion or homosexuality is wrong, but don’t act on that outside the private sphere–even in, say, the hiring of only Christians by Christian charities or the denunciation of homosexuality in public), is a non- and even anti-Christian entailment of the secularist or deistic strains of the Enlightenment. Those strains continue to affect many Americans today, and they seriously curtail authentic Christian practice. Indeed, they are the ideals trumpeted nowadays by the likes of atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, which ought to give Christians as well as Muslims serious pause.

So this report is exposed as being both anti-Muslim–except for very liberal, or inconsistent, Muslims who confine their Islam to private life–and anti-Christian–except for very liberal, or inconsistent, Christians who confine their Christianity to private life. Surely such a report cannot be taken to guide American domestic and foreign policies!

As a sort of evidentiary appendix, I have clipped some phrases from the introductory pages and will comment on them briefly:

Though it certainly has spiritual elements, it would be a mistake to think of shariah as a “religious” code in the Western sense because it seeks to regulate all manner of behavior in the secular sphere – economic, social, military, legal and political. (6)

This is true. One might quibble and say that shari’ah, as a code of ethics, doesn’t “seek” anything. But it does address life beyond the private spheres of belief, devotional practice, and personal morality. And it doesn’t see any such thing as a “secular sphere.” There’s just life, and the one who properly submits to God (= “muslim”) seeks to honour God in every part of life. Sound familiar?

What the authors are rightly concerned about, to be sure, is that in many understandings of shari’ah there is no room for pluralism, or even much in the way of tolerance of non-Muslims and non-Muslim values and practices. That fact certainly worries me, too.

I would also say, however, that there is no room for pluralism in dimensions of Christian ethics, either, since in one important Biblical theme there is either the Kingdom of God or there is the kingdom of “this world”/humanity/Satan. Yet considerable Christian reflection has helped us see that we live in the time between the times, between Christ’s first and second comings, when the Kingdom of God is contesting the dominion of ungodly powers. In this penultimate stage, as Bonhoeffer puts it, we confront pluralism and, indeed, can see God using it for his own purposes as a temporarily helpful expedient. That’s how many Muslims see things, too: They long for the eventual governance of the world by God’s good principles (= shari’ah), but they see him sovereignly working things out through pluralism in the meanwhile. I don’t see that stance as threatening at all, and such interpretations of Islam need to be encouraged by us, not lumped in and condemned as evil.

Shariah is the crucial fault line of Islam’s internecine struggle. (6)

Well, no, it isn’t. Let’s draw up a better map.

First, there is a spectrum of opinion among Muslims about the relationship of shari’ah and other ways of seeing and doing things. Better, I would say, to sketch the matter thus:

extremists, who seek to impose shari’ah by any means possible;

absolutists, who seek to impose shari’ah by any legitimate political means;

moderates, who seek to impose shari’ah by persuasion and who support pluralism as an intermediate stage in political history;

liberals, who reinterpret shari’ah in a whatever way squares with contemporary reason and experience;

mystics, who allegorize shari’ah to confine it to private spiritual experience; and

assimilationists, who essentially conform to western values and see shari’ah as tribal lore to be honoured symbolically and selectively but not as the governing rule of any part of life.

Second, the political dividing line thus lies elsewhere, between the absolutists and the moderates, and not between the moderates and the liberals (which is where the report draws it). If we draw it where the report draws it, then those of us Christians who want to bring Christian values to bear on public life in any way are also apparently seditious.

For these ideologues, shariah is not a private matter. Adherents see the West as an obstacle to be overcome, not a culture and civilization to be embraced, or at least tolerated. It is impossible, they maintain, for alternative legal systems and forms of governments peacefully to coexist with the end-state they seek. (6)

As I have indicated, these phrases jumble together aspirations and attitudes of moderates and those of absolutists and extremists.

What cannot credibly be denied, however, is that:
a. shariah is firmly rooted in Islam’s doctrinal texts, and it is favored by influential Islamic commentators, institutions, and academic centers (for example, the faculty at al-Azhar University in Cairo, for centuries the seat of Sunni learning and jurisprudence);
b. shariah has been, for over a half-century, lavishly financed and propagated by Islamic regimes (particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran), through the offices of disciplined international organizations (particularly the Muslim Brotherhood); and
c. due to the fact that Islam lacks a central, universally recognized hierarchical authority (in contrast to, say, the Roman Catholic papacy), authentic Islamic moderates and reformers have an incredibly difficult task in endeavoring to delegitimize shariah in the community where it matters most: the world’s Muslims. (7)

…the shariah system is totalitarian. It imposes itself on all aspects of civil society and human life, both public and private (7)

The report thus sometimes uses the generic term “shari’ah” to mean “the intention to impose shari’ah by any (legitimate or not) means possible on America and the rest of the world.” To say so is to commit what philosophers call a level mistake: wanting to impose something is not the same as that something. And it’s also to commit a category mistake: shari’ah has been interpreted, as I have pointed out, in a variety of ways relative to western values and practices. For some Muslims, yes, things are just as the report says. But for many others, living in a pluralistic society like the U.S. is not a problem, but a delight–including moderates who hope that one day the whole world will become rightly related to God, which for them means, of course, Muslim. That latter hope is “totalitarian,” then, only in exactly the same way that Christianity is “totalitarian” as it longs for the return of Jesus and the worldwide acknowledgement of him as Lord. So we Christians cannot want to oppose that kind of aspiration. But the authors of this report do, and that’s why I would say this report is anti-Christian as well as anti-Islamic, and in just the same ways.

Those who today support shariah and the establishment of a global Islamic state (caliphate) are perforce supporting objectives that are incompatible with the U.S. Constitution, the civil rights the Constitution guarantees and the representative, accountable government it authorizes. In fact, shariah’s pursuit in the United States is tantamount to sedition. (8)

So here’s the rub: “support” is too vague a word to guide politics, especially the politics of loyalty and treason. “Support” can mean from “vague aspiration” all the way down to “doing whatever it takes.” That’s pretty irresponsible writing when you’re attempting to alter American policy in the strongest possible language and with the strongest possible sanctions implied.

It’s exciting to say such things, but it is exciting the right passion (defense of the U.S. and of western values) against many of the wrong people. Yes, some Muslims clearly are harmful to the U.S. (and Canada…) in both intent and practice. They should not be allowed in to our countries, and certainly not welcomed as immigrants. (And I wish my own government and my own country’s intelligentsia were more alert to such a valid concern.) But this report makes this good point in a seriously bad way, which, if allowed to guide policy, will continue the discrimination against Muslims who are also good Americans that is evident in the misguided furore over Park51, the so-called Ground Zero mosque.

And it will reinforce this preposterous and dangerous secularist tradition of trying to keep religion out of public life entirely, which is bad, of course, for us Christians as well as for Muslims and others.

Here’s hoping the next report on the implications of religion for American politics will include at least a few experts on the former to help out the experts on the latter.

0 Responses to “"Shariah: The Threat to America": A Commendable Worry Badly Addressed”

  1. Steve Wilkinson

    Hi John,

    Thank you for the excellent article. I agree with everything you have said, and hope people embattled in this debate read it and take it to heart! What many Christians seem to be supporting, is exactly the kind of treatment many of us are complaining about; being pushed out of the public square with our religious influence.

    However, there is one distinction between Christianity and Islam in this public/private sphere and law (Shari’ah, 10 Commandments, Mosaic law, etc.) aspect that concerns me.

    A Christian can (and should) make a solid argument, based on Christian Scripture, that the Mosaic law and even the 10 Commandments, are not to be directly applied to non-Mosaic covenant, nation of Israel. While I’m no expert on Islam either, from my understanding, that would seem to be a trickier task for the Muslim.

    If this is the case, then in your chart of extremists to assimilationists, I’d think an orthodox Christian could separate Biblical law from secular law all the way down to maybe the absolutists or extremists. However, it would seem to me that an orthodox Muslim would have to include the moderates, absolutists, and extremists in that category. In other words, the Muslim would have to drop an orthodox understanding of the religion to let go of directly applying Shari’ah. Whereas, the Christian can remain solidly orthodox in making the similar move.

    If orthodoxy = being true to the religion, then it would follow that true Christians can make this distinction, while true Muslims could not. And, by your chart, then moderate Muslims would not be true Muslims; and, if that is the case, I’ll support their (and their more liberal variants) political causes wholeheartedly! I’m just not so sure that is the case, or that then, these ‘moderates’ are going to have much pull on Islam as a whole.

    To put this another way, can a moderate Muslim (by your above definition), interpret Islamic Scripture (Qur’an, Hadith, etc.) in a way which wouldn’t move into liberalism, to support such a position towards implementation of Shari’ah (as how moderate Christians might view the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God)?

    In my understanding of Islam (which I grant is quite limited), I’d have to say no, and that there is a legitimate distinction between Christianity and Islam on this point.

    • John Stackhouse

      Thanks for this helpful comment, Steve. What I would say in response is that I agree that OT Law should not be used as the template for law for other peoples, since it was given for ancient Israel. But it is not irrelevant for other peoples and jurisdictions either, as I assume you’d agree. Then taken together with the revelation in the NT and the subsequent reflections of the church through the centuries, Christians then would have a considerable body of ethics by which to participate in the (ongoing) construction of states here and there.

      What I mean, then, is that moderate Christians (by my definition above) would want the laws of, say, Canada to reflect Biblical principles as far as possible since, unlike the OT Law per se, those principles are not directed primarily at a particular time and place and people, but to human flourishing generally.

      At the same time, Christians can (and should) recognize that some Biblical principles help us negotiate this current “penultimate” time, before Christ comes back, as being related to but also different from the age to come.

      Thus Christians ought to avoid either trying to simply “go back” to the OT Law and also to simply “go forward” to the New Jerusalem that is not here yet in anything like its eventual fullness. (Again, I argue for this sort of conceptualization at length in “Making the Best of It.”)

      Implications for this discussion, then? It still seems to me that I would be among the “moderate” Christians in parallel with the “moderate” Muslims of that template. Both are orthodox, as you put it, but the moderates are willing to live in the tension of “already, but not yet” while the others are not.

      (What I don’t know, among many other things, is whether there is a parallel among moderate Muslims to the “already, but not yet” phrasing in Christian eschatology and ethics–Does anyone else know?)

      Does this make things clearer, Brother Steve? Are we now completely agreed? (It would be so nice if we were, since I anticipate a comment or two in what follows that may not be quite so agreeable!)

      • Steve Wilkinson

        Brother John,

        I think we’re quite close. 🙂 If not, it would probably be in how you might mean, “not irrelevant for other peoples and jurisdictions.” I would probably say that it is not at all relevant in any DIRECT way. I’m not sure if you would agree.

        I may not have thought this through well enough myself, but I would think Mosaic code and 10 Commandments apply directly about as much as the land promises given to the Israelites; in other words, they don’t. That said, I suppose one could get general principals, such as that if a nation lives in a Godly way, they are more likely to be blessed than not, but they certainly can’t claim Israel’s promise to be blessed. I’d say that what is substantive in the Mosaic law, and the 10 Commandments do apply, though, because they are stated other places in the Bible. So, while they don’t directly apply, many principles in them are shared in common.

        So, we absolutely agree on ‘Biblical principals,’ but I’m not so sure about the continuing implications of Mosaic law. Am I oversimplifying this too much?

        For example (and more to the point of my query about Islam), if someone asked me why Christians would no longer support stoning a woman caught committing adultery, I’d say that we don’t because that law and punishment were specific to theocratic Israel. However, adultery is wrong because it is stated in several other parts of the Bible. It is up to our courts to determine how to punish such behavior. And, a Christian should probably support their being some kind of legal ramification for such behavior.

        But, how would a moderate Muslim answer this same question? Wouldn’t they have to make a liberal move, like ‘that was then, this is now’ or something along those lines? I agree with you that there are moderate Muslims, as you describe. I’m just not sure how they justify such a position, so seem ultimately liberal if compared to a similar Christian scale. Again, more power to them (in convincing all the absolutist and extremist Muslims), I just don’t get the move religiously (I get it politically).

  2. Jeff Kimble

    From where I sit, this is the sort of response that reflects a thoughtful, evenhanded and well-written response that Christians find difficult to navigate because they neglect to make these necessary and important distinctions. This is one of the reasons I so appreciate your blog . . . you model for us a way to think and communicate Christianly on difficult and sometimes quite controversial issues. Although I’m one of a number of “no name” fans, I suspect that I speak for many when I say “thank you, dear brother, for your trenchant analysis of this and many other concerns and for the way you graciously engage them.” I, for one, benefit from both the tenor and content of your writing and consider it a model of Christian communication. Sorry to gush, but such writing is not easy to come by on the web.

    • John Stackhouse

      There’s plenty enough discouragement to be endured in the blogosphere, Brother Jeff, so thanks for these encouraging words. I should do more of this good work myself–thanks.

  3. Matthew Westerberg

    I like your thinking on this. I just finished reading “Making the Best of It” and it’s interesting and helpful to see some of the ideas of that book applied to this problem.

    But I share Steve’s concern. Can you elaborate further on why you see a strong parallel between moderate Christians and moderate Muslims?

    My IMPRESSION – I’m certainly no expert on the matter – is that this parallel is not as strong as we moderate Christians might like to think. To use the language of your book, we believe that the kingdom of God is here “already, but not yet”. Christ guides us in our thinking and acting through various means but he does so without completely healing the flaws in us and in the world in which we live – yet. One day he will – when he returns. In the meantime, we make the best of it.

    So pluralism isn’t all that difficult for us – if only because we don’t have an absolutism to offer. It’s not just that we lack power, or persuasiveness to implement the fullness of the kingdom of God on earth; we also lack knowledge of what exactly that kingdom would even look like. We always lack The Option that has No Negative Side Effects and Unintended Bad Consequences. We don’t have The Neat and Tidy Answer or The Blueprint for a Godly Country.

    As such, don’t moderate Christians wait on God very differently from moderate Muslims? We wait not just because we don’t yet have – in the American case – the 2/3 majority in the Senate and state legislatures required to amend the U.S. Constitution and create A Christian Country. Rather, we wait on God because he has not yet made it possible for us to create a country that will perfectly follow his will. For a Christian, living in the “already, but not yet” means applying Biblical principles as best we can, while admitting that the best we can is not perfect, and being very open to input from non-Christians. We recognize that God is working through them as well to bless his world and the people in it.

    But do moderate muslims really wait like this too? If so, nothing to worry about. But what if they are just waiting for that majority position so that they can then vote a fairly robust and traditional version of shariah to be the law of the land? What if the moderate muslim version of “already, but not yet” means “we don’t go too far now, because it’s politically impossible; but as soon as the political climate is right, we’ll go all the way with this handy-dandy blueprint for The Good Society that we’ve had in our back pocket all along”?

    • John Stackhouse

      I hope lots of North American Christians wouldn’t take advantage of a 2/3 (or even a 51%) majority to impose a Christian regime. But we did in the past when we could, and certainly lots of us would like to do it again–on both sides of the border.

      So the position you sketch here and I set out a little more thoroughly (!) in my book is not, I fear, as common as perhaps we’d like to think.

      As for whether it is popular among Muslims, I really don’t know. But my point instead is that such a position IS POSSIBLE for Muslims.

      Now, as for Steve’s point, I confess I am not informed enough to know whether the only way to the “moderate” position I describe among Muslims is for them to opt for a liberal theological method. I think we’re in pretty early days, however, for Islamic Quranic interpretation and theological/ethical theory in the modern era. And when I consider how a non-liberal Christian defense of pluralism emerged only relatively recently, I can hold out some hope for a similar move on a widespread scale among Muslims.

      In the meanwhile, however, I’ll do what I can to foster it among Christians. I’m glad you enjoyed “Making the Best of It”: Please spread the word. And I’m not kidding. There are some competing recent books on this subject currently being promoted (I like my Oxford publishers, but they really can hardly even spell m-a-r-k-e-t-i-n-g), the book needs your help to get known.

      • Matthew Westerberg

        Thanks, John. I appreciate your additional remarks.

        As for the book, I’m already spreading the word. I found it very helpful and I know that many, many others would too – if they only knew about it …

        On that point, a brief anecdote that may interest you: a couple of months ago I stopped in at a large, popular Christian bookstore in the Fraser Valley with the intent of purchasing a copy of “Making the Best of It”. The store didn’t have it. And not because the book sold out. The staff just didn’t even seem to know about it. That was surprising enough, given that it is a new book by a well-known and local author, and again, that this is a large store in a city with a large Christian population. But then, when I asked the clerk if she could order it in, she replied that she could but that it would take a couple of weeks to come in and would cost over $50 – which is about $20 more than a usual hardcover book. She commented that the price was unusually high and that it had something to do with the publisher. She then actually recommended that I order it from Amazon (!), which I did. (I ended up purchasing the Kindle version, which was very well formatted).

        Anyway, I’m not sure if it was the bookstore or Oxford or some intermediate distributor who somehow overlooked getting this book into a very suitable and obvious market, but it might be worth mentioning to the Oxford marketing department. If the fault is with Oxford, there may be many other Christian bookstores across the country who aren’t even aware of the book.

        • John Stackhouse

          It’s not clear to me what’s going on. OUP Canada lists the book on their website at $29.95. (That took me 10 seconds to find out on the OUP website.) This is also the MSRP on the Amazon.ca website.

          So perhaps the clerk made a mistake. Perhaps their store isn’t used to dealing with OUP or isn’t trying very hard to do so. (I’ve had some terrible experiences with lazy or inept Christian booksellers on both sides of the border who just couldn’t manage getting books to sell from the world’s largest university press.) Indeed, the book is quite reasonably priced (for a 160K-word hardcover book) in both the USA and Canada.

          So by all means spread the word without fear of impoverishing your friends and family!

  4. Wayne Park

    FOr one who doesn’t claim knowledge of Islam I found this quite knowledgable (but then again I’m no expert either!)

    The gist I’m getting and correct me if I’m wrong is that it is fundamentally problematic for religion when the State attempts to moderate it. The effort to tone down shariah law is really an attempt to create perhaps a civic Islam divested of its claims to particularity, and this is a danger to us Christians as well, who have our own set of particular distinctions. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty Gods or no Gods.”

    So in the end, while it may seem prudent to fashion a moderated, Western form of civic religion, in the end, the essence of religion itself is carved out.

  5. Mel

    Dr. John,

    I would agree with your implied warning that we need to make sure that we are not supporting anything which could later be turned on Christians. There certainly is no shortage of people in power who want all religion (especially Christianity) silenced. It is only those “pesky” Christians who insist on justice and truth who stand in the way of their machinations.

    But just a few points on your analysis:

    1. Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Algeria, Mauritania, Somalia, and some other countries are also currently under Shariah Law — not just Saudi Arabia. And many other states use it in a partial manner, combining it with a secular law as well.

    2. Christian “totalitarianism” differs significantly from Shariah Law in that it requires Christ Himself to be present in bodily form (as in following His second advent), which, of course would ensure an absolutely benevolent and just rule. I am not aware of any “Christian” political parties in the 21st century which do not all strongly advocate (in this interim period) for a secular state with democratic pluralism and the total institutional separation of church and state. Their definition of “separation” may differ from that of Richard Dawkin’s, but there is a consensus I think on the general concept. After all, it was the anabaptists who made this separation a doctrinal distinctive of their faith, which helped pave the way for the Enlightenment and the resulting political and religious freedoms we’ve come to enjoy in the West.

    All Orthodox schools of Islamic jurisprudence, on the other hand, currently teach Shariah as some form of totalitarian theocracy based — not on a “King” who is coming, but on a “holy” book that we can read for ourselves here and now. Comparing Christianity to Islam, as you have, without this critical distinction, can be misleading;

    3. The definition you give for “moderate” here as those “who seek to impose shari’ah by persuasion and who support pluralism as an intermediate stage in political history” may apply to many Muslims, but not to any orthodox Islamic school of jurisprudence. At least I am not aware of any. Are you?

    And unless there is it is difficult to see how any modern form of Shariah could be developed that would be compatible with liberal democracy (as you cite above) and still be seen as “orthodox” Islam. Islamic supremacy is as essential to orthodox Islam as the resurrection of Christ is to Christendom. You are correct that there are many ways Shariah is viewed amongst Muslims. But unless those views have a legitimate foundation in one of the authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence, they can not be said to conform to orthodox Islam. There is much talk in scholarly circles about this changing, but the problem of the closed idjtihad is formidable. To exclude the “totalitarian and jihadist” aspects of Islam in some modernistic interpretation of the Qur’an would be comparable to some group wanting to add another book to the New Testament canon, (one which “spiritualized” the resurrection)and asking the rest of Christendom to accept it as orthodox Christianity.

    4. Therefore, if you are making a dividing line between “moderate Islam” and “absolutist Islam”, at this point it is one which is between the orthodox and the imaginary. The “moderate” in this case, will merely help pave the way for the absolutist.

    • John Stackhouse

      Thanks for this set of observations and concerns, Brother Mel. I’m sympathetic, again, with a lot of what you say.

      It seems to me that the central matter, at least, boils down to two related questions:

      1. Is it even theoretically possible for an orthodox Muslim to desire that shari’ah be the (eventual) law of the land and to work in every legitimate way (persuasion + politics) for that to happen while at the same time being content to live in and support a reasonably benign pluralism over a considerable “medium term”?

      (You assert, if I have you right, that it is not theoretically possible. Any orthodox Muslim cannot rest content in such a position and must instead insist on shari’ah being the law of the land immediately and work tirelessly toward that end in every situation.)

      2. If it is even theoretically possible to be a “moderate” as I have defined that position, are there any such people?

      I am given affirmative answers to both questions by people I know who know more about Islam than I do (in which class, of course, are a very large number of people!). They point to such varied Muslims as Hamza Yusuf, Ali Goma’a, and Reza Shah-Kazemi.

      But I do not claim to be able to give strongly affirmative answers to either question. I hope strongly that both questions can be answered affirmatively, but I agree with you, Mel, that whether there are such affirmative answers is exactly at the heart of the matter and one of the key points–not the only one, but one of the key points–in my dismay over this report.

      • Mel

        Thank you for your comments Dr. John.

        If I can just clarify … To me, the issue is not about whether there are moderate Muslims. There are millions of moderate Muslims…at least as you define them. So I agree with you on that.

        The problem is there is no “moderate” Islam. At least no “authoritative” moderate Islam. All the schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Maliki, Shafi, Hanafi, and Hanbali) teach the violent and subjugative aspects of Shariah Law…which make it incompatible with liberal democracy.

        Moderate Muslims simply ignore these schools of thought and, (just like many Christians use an a la cart theology), moderate muslims pick and choose what to believe from the Qur’an. Technically, its more accurate to refer to “moderate Muslims” as non-practicing, or partial practicing Muslims.

        Creative interpretations of “sacred” texts are not rare, especially when they are expedient. But it is extremely difficult given that idjtihad is closed. No additional “authoritative” interpretations are allowed. Of course many Muslims scholars are challenging this, and calling for idjtihad to be reopened. But, as I’ve stated before, that’s like asking Christendom to accept new books into the Canon of the New Testament.

        I’m not saying it is impossible to develop some kind of “moderate Islam”. But right now it only exists (as far as I can see) in the imagination of Western academic apologists for Islam — not in any real sense. And until that changes, we should be extremely cautious, recognizing the dangers for what they are. It was Mohammud himself who said “war is deception”.

  6. Robert Plante

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    To my opinion…we should start worrying a lot about the sharia.
    Were I come from, the modern North Western Netherlands (therefore my bad english were I appologize for), religion in a general way and Islam in particular is taking over rapidly.
    And that’s very sad! And bad!
    Mind you , I’m not an atheist like Richard Dawkins is (who I admire though for his courage), more A-gnostic (TAP as Dawkins calls it) but since I’m on Vancouver Island life’s way more satisfying as it comes to the influence of religions. In Holland the atmosphere is worse then ever! Over here people never offence me.
    Have you ever, ever thought about the possibility that it can be rather scary for a non-Christian when you experience that you coorperation whatsoever for projects you used to do in the past are denied always.
    Can you imagine how it feels when religious christian people start demanding you how to deal with difficult situations in your life. Matters of life and deaf. They want to turn back things like abortion, euthanesia and soft drugs laws.
    But why? What’s the problem for the christian society when individual what’s to end his own suffering?
    To me, secularity in every way in the public domain, would be a blessing. No God anywhere on the streets. As a radio I want the right to turn God off.
    I respect everyone. From civil servants to fishermen and from Hindi to Christians, Jews, or Islamic people. And yes I new a lot of them.
    But please let me breath and give the opportunity to raise my kids the way I think is ethical.
    For me Jezus is myth and the god of Mozes and Abraham nothing more than the God of somebody else.
    Some of my Surinam friends were Hindu and some Turkish were Muslim. I didn’t care.
    But I do care that Muslim and Jews treat their little boys bad and hurt them. And do care when dutch protestant people don’t allow there women to vote. Because evrybody should make his own choices if he’s able to. And Children should have the opportunity to choose there own religion or God or no-religion if there able to make that very important choice. Because , for instance for Muslim kids, the Sharia would be an option instead of a demand.
    So I hope that Christians will see the light and start having respect for A-gnostic or Atheist people (in a way you are an atheist also if it comes to religion, in the eyes of a Hindu off course)who simply don’t believe or at east not in the Gods from the bible or the Torah and just let them be.
    Again secularity is the sacred word when it’s about respect between people.
    No Sharia and no 10 commandments.
    And for what the US is concerned. Theu created there own political/christian sharia. It’s just another system.
    The US is just a temple of doom who wants to keep the demons out.
    Nothing more and definately nothng less….

  7. Robert Plante

    Well buddyglass, it’s nothing new and far from unique! Your link is not.
    The minister of foreign affairs in the Netherlands made an official public declaration that about 19000 telephones of Dutch citizens of Holland are tapped everyday!
    Most of them are no crime calls at all.
    The Dutch government also demanded , by law, that all public libraries have to give all the information ,what people read and how much for instance. That information is kept by the government for at least years. It’s worse than George Bushes patriot act.
    So if your 16 year old kid rents an Playboy annual(wich is possible in Holland) and 2 books of an Iranic reactionist and an enginering book about building advanced radio’s and a Tattoo book or a biker book , he has to be criminal. Hasn’t he?
    That’s Europa 2010.
    In my hometown where I lived (20% Dutch protestants) the local church communities were able to change the Dutch Annual Kids Bookweek item from Magic into Mystery.
    As the president of a local elementory Montissori like schoolboard I opposed against that arroant ridiculous plan.
    Why should people that strongly believe that a man can walk over water, change wine into water , raise the dead and strongly believe that the earth is church is just 5000 years old, sea can split in two and individuals can really live up to 450 years be in charge of innocent Book’s week item for kids. Because of harry Potters issue’s.
    Come on. They tell those stories in every christian church every week.
    To me , modern society is really struggeling with ethical problems and it’s time to help eachother instead of concentrating on trivialities wich don’t feed kids, don’t improve women rights and doesn’t make sense at all!

    • Mel


      If your concern is to “help each other” and “feeding kids”, then you should at least be very supportive of Christians. While you might object to children being told Biblical stories, they are also told many other things: like loving your enemies, loving your neighbour as yourself, doing good to those who hurt you, returning good for evil, overcomeing evil with good, feeing the hungry, helping the sick and those in prison, clothing the naked, and helping refugees and strangers.

      Take a good look at who is involved in the most difficult places in the world, in areas where the humnitarian needs are greatest, and where the living conditions are the hardest, and you will find Christians demonstrating the love of Christ.

      You talk about women’s rights. The feminist movement started as a result of evangelical action in the 19th century. It was Christians, who led the campaign for the global abolition of slavery (a practice which is permitted in the Qur’an and is still practiced in some Muslim countries today).

      As societies beging to abandon Christian principles and ethics, totalitarianism creeps in. It is inevitable. Every society which has chosen a path against the path of Christ becomes oppressive. This is exactly what is happening in the Netherlands and many other countries today. Even the church, when it substituted its own oligarchy for the teachings of Christ became oppressive.

      It was Christ who taught that all human life is important and valued… even “the least of these” need to be loved as brothers and sisters.

    • buddyglass

      Uh. Okay. I’m not sure how that relates to the wiki link I posted, but okay. 🙂

      I was just trying to point out that the think tank that issued the report has a strong neo-con bias.

  8. Lonnie

    I would suggest each of you read the book “God’s War On Terror” by former terrorist Walid Shoebat, the most wanted man in the Muslim world. A final comment, “I have yet to meet any former Muslim who has converted to christianity, who would agree with comments blogged above. Jesus stated that his coming was for the rise and fall of many…that things would be shaken to such a degree that only those things in Him would remain… and that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. It is time to awaken and be sober. The age is winding to a close….In Christ Jesus….Lonnie

    • Mel Middleton

      Hello Lonnie, Thanks for your post. I’m a bit confused.Are you saying that Walid would not agree with the idea that Shariah is a great threat? or with the arguments expressed by Dr. John? From my reading of Walid, I would think he would be extremely concerned about Shariah encroaching in America.

      Where Dr. John is wrong, IMO, is that he assumes there are more or less benign forms of Shariah law. He is wrong in that Saudia Arabia is not the only country official ruled by Shariah Law. Sudan, Yeman, Iran and others are as well. What is particularly oppressive is the new Muslim Brotherhood revivalist form of Shariah (just look at Darfur and what is happening in Sudan — the main headquarters for the MB). The book “Muslim Mafia” documents the fact that almost every Muslim organization existing in North America is a front for the MB. It is dangerous. And it will destroy America….sooner rather than later.

  9. “Shariah: The Threat to America”: A Commendable Worry Badly Addressed (via Prof. John Stackhouse’s Weblog) | Faith Seeking Understanding

    […] The Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., recently released a report called Shariah: The Threat to America that sounds the alarm against fifth-column Muslims within and anti-American Muslims beyond America's borders. Penned by an elite team culled from the ranks of America's soldiers, diplomats, politicians, and spies, it pronounces shari'ah (the code of Islamic law that governs all of life) to be the great threat of our times similar t … Read More […]


Comments are closed.